I am weeping, following the news out of Charleston that 9 people were murdered during a prayer service at their church. The white terrorist targeted that church and those people because they were African American. He sat with them in their bible study, then stood up and announced he was there “to shoot black people.” He told one survivor that he was not going to kill her, so that she could tell what happened.

Terrorism. On our own land, by one of us.

We don’t want to see the terrorist as one of us. Hate so strong it would motivate such an evil act – we want to categorize him as “other.” I look at his action and wrestle with the very idea of humanity. Did he lose it, in that violent act? Did he become inhuman?

This past Sunday, I answered questions written on index cards, and given to me during the service. There were many great questions that I didn’t have time to answer, so I said I’d be answering those in future columns, which I will.

There were a couple of questions that I did answer on Sunday, that concerned how we are to be with people who are different from us, and how important is it, really, to love others, even people we don’t like?

It may be the most important thing we ever do.

When we self-segregate according to political or religious belief, when we only invest in relationships with people who are like us, we are giving away our opportunity for radical love, the kind of love that can change minds and hearts.

I’ve heard it said that “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Meeting people where they are, and loving them, can be a transformative act. For both of you. In real relationship, we are each allowed to be our most authentic self. But what if their authentic self is rooted in hate? Certainly, there are boundaries we may need to establish. To accept another, to be in relationship, does not preclude creating agreements about what your time together will look like. “Aunt Nelly, I want to spend time with you, but I will leave if you use racist language.”

My belief, where I put my faith, is that love is stronger than hate. Your lived example, of being a person dedicated to love as a guiding principle, has the power to change another.

I would like to say that your love will be irresistible. But it won’t always be. People can still choose hate, ignorance, evil.

And still, I hope you will choose love.

In one of my favorite sermons by Rev. Martin Luther King, he writes, “There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater.” Choosing to break through the barrier of “otherness” to love someone reaps dividends in our own spiritual growth, we are growing our own souls larger and stronger. It is an act of great power to love outside of our own familiarity.

Love. Love fiercely. Love relentlessly. Love beyond political or religious belief. Make your love a point of pride that you will fight for, vow that no one can take away your power to love. Let your love drive you to march in the streets, demand change. Let it force you to abandon your shyness, your discomfort, as privileges you can no longer afford, and walk across the lawn to chat with your neighbor.

Love the hell out of the world.

For further reading, I highly recommend: